Chipotle Braised Chicken & Rice

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Chicken thighs have always lived in the shadow of the chicken breast, and I have to admit that until recently, that’s where I thought they belonged. My mom never made thighs when I was growing up, and I remember being skeptical in college when the dining hall seemed to sneak them into every chicken dish. But then I started cooking with them at home, and it only took me a couple of recipes to realize I had it all wrong. Thighs are so much moister than breasts, and you know how sometimes the outside of a chicken breast is perfectly seasoned and delicious, but the inside is totally bland and dry? Not so with the humble thigh. It absorbs flavor down to the bone and is much more forgiving than a breast when it comes to cooking time. And they’re less expensive, too? I’m sorry I ever doubted you, chicken thigh.

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This Chipotle Braised Chicken and Rice is my take on Arroz con Pollo, the Spanish / Latin American dish of baked chicken and rice.  While my version could hardly be called traditional, it’s a little punchier and smokier than the classic thanks to poblano and chipotle peppers. And with fire-roasted tomatoes, chicken stock, and almost a can of beer, the braising liquid turns into the most delicious sauce.

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What I love about this recipe is that everything cooks in one pot. You brown the chicken thighs, then sauté the vegetables, then braise everything together, and finally, add the rice directly to the pot.  It’s easy enough for a weeknight when want you something special for dinner, but you don’t feel like a big ordeal and a sink full of dishes. (Does anyone ever feel like that?) But it’s the toppings that elevate this from a weeknight staple to dinner party food. 

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I serve the chicken and rice in shallow bowls topped with sliced avocado, a big dollop of sour cream, a slice of lime, and chopped herbs. (Cilantro if you like it, parsley if you don’t.)  The toppings make the whole thing fun to eat and are also a great balance to the heat in the dish.  Make a big batch of margaritas and some guac to start, and you have a perfect menu that’s a total crowd pleaser. And thanks to my new BFF chicken thighs, your party won’t break the bank either. 

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Chipotle Braised Chicken and Rice


Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (2½-3½ pounds total)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
  • 1 cup (1/2-inch diced) poblano pepper (1 large)
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 cup light-colored beer, such as Modelo
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes, such as Muir Glen
  • 2 tablespoons diced chipotle peppers in adobo (2 peppers)
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce, from the can of chipotle peppers
  • 2 cups good-quality chicken stock
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 lime, halved through the stem and sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick, for serving
  • sour cream, sliced avocado, and chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium (11-inch) Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels and sprinkle both sides liberally with salt and pepper. Place four chicken thighs, skin side down, in the pot and cook for 6-7 minutes without moving, until browned. Turn the pieces over and cook, skin side up, for 3-4 minutes, until browned. Remove to a plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining four thighs.

Drain about half the fat from the pot, reduce the heat to low and add the onion, poblano pepper, garlic, cumin and oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the peppers are tender. Add the beer and cook for 1 minute, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, chicken stock, and 2 teaspoons salt and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then add the chicken thighs, along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Add the rice, stirring gently to make sure all the rice is submerged in the braising liquid, and return to the oven for 25 more minutes, covered, until the rice is almost tender and the broth has thickened. Set aside, covered, for 10 minutes. Stir in the lime juice, then serve immediately in shallow bowls, topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, a lime slice, and chopped parsley or cilantro.


Grilled Chicken Paillard with Winter Green Salad

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In case you haven’t wandered into a CVS or Rite Aid lately, let me tell you: Cupid’s big day is upon us. (All the good cards have been gone for weeks, sorry.)

While I love a swanky dinner date as much as the next girl, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, my ideal night is actually a delicious dinner for two cooked at home. Most restaurants have Valentine’s Day prix-fixe menus that are supposed to make you feel like you’re experiencing “romance” and “love” when really you’re just choosing between salmon and steak and being rushed through your chocolate cake so the next couple can sit down and have their romantic evening. At home, you can relax, go at your own pace, make whatever you feel like eating, and really enjoy each other’s company.

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But what to make? I’m thinking Grilled Chicken Paillard with Winter Green Salad. Inspired by a dish that I had with my valentine (hi Joe!) at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, it’s simple and quick to make, but is still “fancy” and more importantly, delicious. The chicken is tender and well seasoned, and topped with a salad that’s bright, crunchy, and strikes the perfect balance between savory, sweet and bitter. You guessed it, this salad is a metaphor for love!

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I love the way the plate looks with a grilled chicken breast peeking out under a mountain of greens, walnuts, grapes and blue cheese. It’s restaurant-style presentation that’s so easy to recreate at home. AND, it’s the sort of dinner that leaves you with enough room for a decadent chocolate dessert.

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The only labor-intensive part of the recipe is pounding the chicken, which I do in a plastic bag to make cleanup easy. I discovered that while a meat mallet is technically the right the tool for the job, a bottle of wine works just as well.

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Whether you’re planning on spending Tuesday night with that certain special someone, getting drinks with friends, or staying in and watching The Holiday, Valentine’s Day is – at the very least- a great excuse to celebrate the love in our lives with a delicious dinner and several large glasses of wine. And that, I think, is something we can never do too often.

Grilled Chicken Paillard with Winter Green Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 ½ cups baby arugula, lightly packed (2 ounces)
  • ½ small head radicchio, cored and sliced very thinly
  • ½ cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped
  • 2/3 cup seedless red grapes, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoonsDijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup large-diced mild, creamy blue cheese, such as Blue D’Auvergne
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Place the chicken breasts into a gallon-size Ziploc bag. Using a meat mallet, a rolling pin, or a wine bottle, pound the chicken breasts through the plastic until they are 1/2 inch thick. (This takes a few minutes – be careful not to pound so hard you tear the meat.)
  2. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Pour marinade into the bag with the chicken, seal, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the arugula, radicchio, walnuts and grapes. In a small measuring cup (you can use the same one you used for the marinade) whisk together the sherry vinegar, mustard, 2 tablespoons olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
  4. Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Remove the chicken breasts from the bag, pat dry with paper towels, and grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, until there are dark grill marks on each side and the breasts are just cooked through. (Alternatively, you can cook the chicken in a large sauté pan: heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat and cook each breast for 3-5 minutes on each side, until evenly browned and cooked through.)
  5. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to combine. Add the blue cheese and toss gently. To serve, place each chicken breast on a plate and top with a mound of salad. Serve immediately.